When the Moon Was Ours

28220826by Anna-Marie McLemore
YA Contemporary / Magical Realism
5 of 5 stars

The trouble with reviewing a book of this quality is the fact that your own writing will be so inadequate you’re left using bland superlatives in an attempt to communicate the sublime experience you just had. It’s “incredible” “amazing” “beautiful” and really all anyone can take from that is “So you liked it a LOT.”

Yes, I liked this story a LOT.

This is magical realism at its most powerful. Miel fell out of a water tower when she was five and grows roses from her wrist. Sam is a bacha posh who paints moons and hangs them all over town. The two have been inseparable best friends until now, when they are seventeen and facing feelings that could change their relationship. Their growing attraction has to bend around Sam’s gradual realization that his identity as a boy goes deeper than the clothes he wears or the body he has. Miel has another reason for hesitance: the Bonner sisters (four girls the town views as witches) decide they want Miel’s roses and threaten to reveal all of her secrets—and steal Sam’s love away—if she doesn’t comply.

The small town is full of delicious, dangerous magic, and people that are all struggling to claim their identities despite the lies they tell themselves or the gossip other people whisper about them. Everything addressed in this story is handled sensitively and with an emotional resonance that will inspire you to see yourself and others in a nicer light.

That was the best I can do—add this to your list no matter what you normally read and let its magic unfold.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, When the Moon Was Ours is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby – Finn is horrified when Roza goes missing, just like the rest of Bone Gap, Illinois. He alone wants to keep searching for her several months later, despite his disgrace. He was the only who saw the man that took Roza–but he can’t remember his face. This story is filled with magical realism and heartbreaking truths about people. See my review here.
  • Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar – Another story featuring bees and magical realism, this one takes place in the Southwest. Carolina’s family is spending the summer at her grandfather’s ranch, prepping it for sale. Her grandfather is going to an assisted living home (against his will) and Carolina is caught in the middle of her family’s drama. Then her grandfather’s story about a village, a tree, and magic bees starts to seem less like fiction and more like family history. See my review here.
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Simon is only “out” with his mysterious email pen pal Blue. Both of them haven’t told each other their real names, but their growing relationship is threatened by another student who will expose their emails to the school unless Simon helps him land a girlfriend. See my review here.
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Another story about learning not to spit on your roots–Gabi is Mexican-American and it seems like she is always becoming either too Mexican or too American for those around her. This book explores her senior year through her diary as she opens up to writing and dealing with the complex highs and lows of high school. See my review here.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – I love this magical realism story about a small town with a reservoir and two sisters–Ruby, who is everything, and Chloe, who looks up to her older sister. Ruby will do anything to keep her sister safe with her–even if it means bending the reality of their town and everyone in it. See my review here.

This Adventure Ends

27779275by Emma Mills
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars

I grabbed this last year because it’s essentially my favorite color–I thought it would be fun (it definitely was!) but I did not expect to feel so connected to Sloane. I did not expect to feel like Emma Mills was calling me out on my sh*t. It’s a special book that makes you feel vulnerable, understood, and inspired without ever alienating you. So glad I randomly added this to my pile last fall!

But let me back up.

Sloane moves from NYC to Florida with her family for her senior year. She knows this would really piss off most seniors, but she doesn’t much care. She has turned “not caring too much” into an art form, until she breaks up a fight at a party and finds herself drawn into the dynamic and broken lives of popular twins Gabe and Vera. When a beloved painting from their deceased mother goes missing, Sloane makes it her mission to get it back.

Maybe I only connected to Sloane’s special brand of well-meaning earnestness that inevitably turns into awkwardness because it reminded me so strongly of myself, but I like to think the writing is strong enough to pull anyone in. It creates that wistful feeling that you wish you were friends with these characters.

This story revolves around the complicated nature of friendship, which is often overlooked in favor of romance. This one puts attraction on the backburner, choosing instead to study how you become and stay friends now that social media dominates the landscape (don’t worry, it doesn’t get all preachy about technology ruining Today’s Youth or anything). It actually just highlights how it’s harder to know if someone is your friend or just a follower, how you have a public persona and a deeply private one, and how you must reconcile those two sides of yourself. At times I felt guided along, but I did not mind.

What I really loved was the number of strained conversations between Sloane and everyone else. There aren’t snappy retorts and witty banter so much as the moments you feel you can’t tell the truth, so you give a one-word answer. You make a joke rather than addressing the real issue, even when the joke is terrible. Deflections rather than the deeper conversations. Finding ways to tell your friends you care without having to pull the words out. This book works hard in the best way—it’s a new favorite for me!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, This Adventure Ends is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – Another inseparable group of friends that you just want to be friends with (but possibly more so, because Magic). Blue, the psychic’s un-psychic daughter, joins a group of prep school boys to find a Welsh king in suspended animation so they can claim a wish. Or something. See my review here.
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord – Vivi’s summer in a beach town is already off to a great start when she meets the attractive and quiet Jonah. A summer romance, perfect! Because neither of them have intense personal secrets that could erupt at any time. See my review here.
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – A co-dependent anxiety-filled twin must spend her freshman year of college apart from her sister, and decide whether her roommate’s friend can draw her out of her fanfiction world and into the real one.
  • You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner – Another art-filled story of friendship–and rivalry. When Julia is expelled and becomes the only Deaf girl in a mainstream school, she throws herself into her art even more. But she unwittingly stumbles into a turf war and must figure out who is trying to push her out. See my review here.

You’re Welcome, Universe

25701463by Whitney Gardner
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 7, 2017

From the first chapter, Julia’s adamant self-confidence prepared me for a wild ride! When her friend is the victim of a graffiti slur on the school’s wall, Julia takes care of it herself. It’s what friends are for, right? Apparently not, because Jordyn rats her out, and Julia is expelled.

At her new school, Julia has to have an interpreter–she is the only Deaf student.  She’s ready for a fresh-start trust-no-one no-friends year, until her tags start getting attention from another artist, forcing her to retaliate.

The short chapters flew by (embellished with artwork!) as Julia reluctantly befriends an ex-cheerleader she dubs YP and hides her continued passion for painting from her moms. Her friendship with YP ended up being the gold nugget of this book for me! I loved that this story explored the highs and lows of friendships through Jordyn and YP–the devastation of betrayal and the joy of finding someone who Gets You.

Julia’s self-assurance gives her the confidence to strike out on her own, but it also lands her in serious trouble. The contrast of needing faith in yourself with knowing when you’re wrong made her such a fun character to spend time with. Even when I knew she was screwing up I was cheering for her! So many YA books focus on obtaining confidence to begin with, which is fine, but it’s fun to spend time with a girl who acts first and contemplates later (if ever).

What else did I love? Every character had the chance to show Julia (and me) the layers beneath a first impression. Good or bad, nobody was merely what Julia saw at first glance and it’s even more impressive in such a short book.

What else did I love? We stick to a pretty routine high school schedule. So often I find myself thinking “Oh yeah, homework, class, an after-school job…where are those elements?” For me, high school was busy! Julia is too, and her mundane job at McDonald’s is part of her life. Having a crush on her coworker–and watching her ex-best friend flirt with him–is part of her life. That feeling of high school being a small and pervasive bubble of drama you can’t escape is so real here!

Honestly there’s just a lot to love! This is a quick read with cool art, grab it! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, You’re Welcome, Universe is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord – What struck me about You’re Welcome, Universe was the friendship and this is a goldmine of female friendships! See my review here.
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – A beautiful story about a girl finding herself and her strength through her poetry, as told in her senior year diary. See my review here.
  • Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes – Maguire is convinced she is cursed with bad luck, but a trip to her family’s relatives in Ireland convinces her to try a new form of therapy. A wry and emotional story of Maguire’s progress in the form of challenges she sets herself, with good friendships and a bit of romance along the way. See my review here.

Our Own Private Universe

22082082by Robin Talley
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars

I wanted a follow-up to “Georgia Peaches” and I was pretty happy with this one!

Aki has always wondered if she is bisexual, and a month in Mexico on a mission trip becomes a way for her to test her theories about herself and her life. An instant crush on Christa, a girl from another youth group quickly leads to explosive feelings between the two of them and a lot of hard decisions to make regarding who can know about their relationship and what exactly it means to each of them.

This story is high on the romance and high on the drama—honestly it reminded me a lot of high school and youth group experiences I had (the drama that is—anything LGBTQ did not fly) so I was pleasantly surprised to be hit with some nostalgia. Aki and Christa experience some instant-attraction that quickly becomes something more, but for me it didn’t veer into the “insta-love” category. I really liked Aki’s complicated relationship with her best friend and her older brother, and the fact that the mission trip never faded to the background. Aki and Christa must work their relationship around their chores and activities with the children, and it added a charming fish-out-of-water element to the plot. I was a bit uncomfortable with Aki choosing to call her relationship with Christa an “experiment” in the beginning (because she was testing her Bisexuality Theory for herself). It gets kind of convoluted with her wish to be more active instead of passive in her life generally, but I think it was clear that it was a quirk of Aki’s and not yielding to the stereotype.

It gets a bit heavy-handed towards the end because Aki helps organize a debate designed to educate the church members on social issues for the church conference coming up. (Several churches came together to do the mission trip and are trying to get the official organization statement put together for the conference). But overall, this was a fun fast read!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Our Own Private Universe is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown – Another take on Christian girls who are into girls. Jo’s dad is a pastor, and for years she has wanted to add an LGBTQ-friendly radio show to his extensive radio ministry. She might finally get her wish—if she can pretend to be straight for his new wife’s extended family, until she graduates high school. Sketchy, but fine, Jo agrees. And then she meets beautiful, funny, sensitive Mary Carlson. See my review here.
  • Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst – A princess betrothed to a prince in a neighboring country moves there for her upcoming wedding. And while she desperately tries to feel something for her fiancé, she faces her growing attraction to his sister. So cute and romantic! See my review here.
  • Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Simon is only “out” with his mysterious email pen pal Blue. Both of them haven’t told each other their real names, but their growing relationship is threatened by another student who will expose their emails to the school unless Simon helps him land a girlfriend. See my review here.

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit

28512466by Jaye Robin Brown
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars

On this day of celebrating love in all its forms, I recommend this romantic story of two small-town southern Christian girls falling in love despite doing their darndest to deny their feelings! (Seriously, wouldn’t everyone enjoy Valentine’s Day more if it was a bit more inclusive? Romantic love isn’t the only kind that matters!)

As true winter finally sets in, it was nice to read about the warmth of Georgia for a change! Jo Gordon is an out and proud pastor’s daughter, but now that her father has married wife number three who comes with an ultra-conservative family, he wants to move Jo from Atlanta to small-town Rome, and also wants her to keep her true sexuality under wraps for her senior year. Jo agrees, only if he finally gives her the green light for adding her own LGBTQ-friendly youth radio program to his booming Christian radio ministry. The bargain is struck, and Jo transforms into Joanna, the wholesome girl her new extended family will love. Ten months of passing to get her ultimate wish of running a radio show that could help hundreds of teens like her—but Joanna didn’t count on meeting the girl of her dreams.

I loved everything about this story except the weird bargain between Jo and her father (yes, I know that’s the foundational premise). Her supportive dad asking her to change herself that way feels so wrong, and what’s worse is Jo’s agreement to it. But all that aside, her continued waffling over why she can’t tell her friends (and then her secret girlfriend) the truth makes less and less sense. I don’t enjoy plots that hinge on a Secret, especially when keeping the secret seems like the least logical option.

However, everything else is so well-done that I was able to keep suspending my disbelief. We see both sides of Christianity’s viewpoint on the LGBTQ community, and we see so many characters offering flat-out rejection as well as supportive acceptance. So many misconceptions and stereotypes about lesbians and being queer are hammered out without it feeling like the author is stepping in to present her views. Jo’s relationships with her friends, her father, and her stepmother evolve in wonderfully believable ways. I also liked how the Christian community was portrayed–especially faith’s importance to Jo. Interwoven through all of it is the fierce attraction between Jo and Mary Carlson, and their chemistry is perfect!

The characters are what make this story come alive and I loved their journeys! It’s a cute romance with so many feelings! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – This came to me highly recommended and I loved it so much! Simon is not out to everyone, but that choice might disappear thanks to another student who threatens to expose Simon’s email correspondence with a boy named Blue. With great sarcasm and poise, Simon deals with blackmail and trying to discover the identity of the boy he loves. See my review here.
  • The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord – This is an adorable high school romance with one of the best girl squads I’ve ever read! See my review here.
  • P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han – First Lara Jean and Peter pretended to be together, now they’re actually together, but high school rumors threaten to end their relationship for good. See my review here.
  • Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch – A rom com set in Italy (prepare to be hungry) and Lina tries to resist the charm of her estranged father, the boy next door, and Italy itself. But family secrets demand she gives everything a closer look. See my review here.

The Female of the Species

25812109by Mindy McGinnis
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be unflinching. It shoves the worst parts of humanity in your face and demands a response. It’s a dark book–trigger warnings could be peppered throughout for violence, rape (not on-page), and animal cruelty–but it’s so good.

Alex’s sister was murdered three years ago. When the killer walked free, she secretly took vengeance into her own hands. Jack is the valedictorian jock who wishes he could forget his past and make a future for himself by escaping the town. Peekay is the preacher’s daughter who wishes she could exist beyond her dad’s job. The three of them are drawn together in different ways for their senior year.

This book rips apart rape culture, sexism, the dangers of stereotypes, all in a small town with little opportunity for its students to grow in any capacity. Yet they all do grow, and you’re along for every doubt, question, and realization.

Alex finds herself enraged by things everyone else takes for granted: that “boys will be boys”, that what a girl wears determines her reputation, that words are thrown around with little regard for their effects. She doesn’t understand the part of herself that rises to lash out and attack people for their behavior, whether it’s a crime or simply an offensive habit.

I think many women have experienced a lot of rage this year, and this story felt especially timely. As Alex struggles to understand her impulses and to fit in, she had me questioning why we don’t feel the same anger over injustice, sexism, and cruelty. Laying out everything explored in this book wouldn’t come across in the same way. As each chapter unfolded, connections between different human idiosyncrasies and social customs pop up to frustrate you and prod you into changing society for the better.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Female of the Species is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Maren has an unbreakable habit of eating anyone who feels affection for her. When her mother abandons her as a 16th birthday present, Maren decides to seek out her biological father to see if she can learn what made her this way and if there’s hope to break free of it. See my review here.
  • The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter – Cassie and her mother have a volatile relationship, capped by Cassie’s involuntary stint in a psychiatric ward. Now 18 and free to go to college (against medical advice) she hopes to begin a new life. But then her mother reappears promising all the love Cassie always wanted. See my review here.
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi always feels too white for her family, too Mexican for her classmates. As one friend tries to come out as gay, and the other has an unplanned pregnancy, Gabi finds herself spread thin over all her responsibilities, and discovers poetry as an escape. See my review here.
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – Lia and Cassie were best friends with a pact to be the skinniest girls in school. But after Cassie is found dead in a motel, Lia struggles with her friend’s ghostly encouragement to continue their contest and the insidious voice in her head that insists she’s still fat. See my review here.
  • The Girl Who Fell by Shannon M. Parker – Zephyr has her life planned: graduate, attend Boston College. But when she meets Alec, he’s everything she never dreamed she needed. It’s normal to give up all your dreams for love, right? But when Zephyr starts to have doubts, she wonders if Alec will ever let her go. See my review here.

Bone Gap

18806240by Laura Ruby
YA Contemporary / Magical Realism
4 of 5 stars

I’ve been on a magical realism kick this year, and I love it! If you haven’t read magical realism, it’s basically our ordinary world crossed with completely unexplained events (like a paranormal TV show) – except the characters aren’t surprised by the strange magic at all.

In Bone Gap, Illinois, Finn and Sean keep up their house and their garden, and they don’t speak about what happened two months earlier – when Roza, the love of the town, was kidnapped. Finn saw the man who took her, but his description hasn’t helped police, and the town blames him for Roza’s disappearance. When Finn befriends Petey, the beekeeper’s daughter, strange events start happening, and Finn is newly determined to find Roza before it’s too late.

It’s the language of this book that makes the story so moving. The relationships leap off the page with their cruelly accurate portrayals of how we treat each other based on appearance. How beauty is a currency, how unhappiness with yourself causes you to rip someone else apart to feel better. How sometimes we just want a good story to tell our friends when we should be helping someone else. How feminism can come in many forms. The small town perfectly encapsulates the best and worst of people–and the magic will keep you guessing Finn and Roza’s fates until the end. There is so much to pick apart here, this is good for several rereads.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Bone Gap is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar – Another story featuring bees and magical realism, this one takes place in the Southwest. Carolina’s family is spending the summer at her grandfather’s ranch, prepping it for sale. Her grandfather is going to an assisted living home (against his will) and Carolina is caught in the middle of her family’s drama. Then her grandfather’s story about a village, a tree, and magic bees starts to seem less like fiction and more like family history. See my review here.
  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee – Two sisters in Vermont coping with the loss of their mother don’t live in any ordinary forest. When Sylvi goes missing too, Jules is left alone to figure out what to do. At the same time, a tiny fox knows she has a connection to the sad girl in the woods. See my review here.
  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – Not magical realism, but it is set in the Midwest (portrayed so accurately!) and follows two teens who meet at the top of the school’s tower for different reasons. When they both agree not to jump, their relationship is just beginning. See my review here.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley – This YA fantasy story is a subtle Beauty and the Beast retelling with bees and honey. Mirasol becomes the next Chalice, responsible for keeping unity in the government as they rule their magical land. If she can’t make the land accept their new Master, a Priest of Fire, everything will be destroyed. See my review here.

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